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Every living thing is part of an ecosystem. An ecosystem is a community of interacting organisms. It’s how the living and non-living things in the environment — like air, soil, water, sun — work together to allow plants, animals, and people to survive and thrive. Gardening, tending to the environment, and observing and interacting with nature can help kids understand their relationship with the earth and our responsibility to take care of it and each other. We all grow best when we grow together!
Talk About It!
Our conversations with our kids increase their powers of observation and help them ask and answer questions about the world around them.
- At Home: Ecosystem is a big, wonderful word. It’s how the world around us works together to help us grow. Help your kids find the items in your home’s ecosystem that help them grow — such as clean water, air, and food. Take the conversation a step further: How does water get to the faucet? Where does water go when you flush the toilet? Where does milk come from? The vegetables in the fridge? We may buy them at the store, but where were they before that? Use books or the internet to show them pictures of farms and what food looks like before it is harvested: apple trees, corn stalks, bean vines, etc.
- Around Town: As you walk around your neighborhood or a local park, slow down the pace and look for signs of plant and animal life! Poke in the dirt and turn over a rock or a leaf. Do you see any tracks, droppings, nests, feathers, webs, holes, webs, or cracked acorn? How many different kinds of plants can you count? Can you find a tree, a bush, a flower, a vine, or grass? Engage in conversation to help your child think about the larger ecosystem, such as "I wonder what the ant finds to eat here" or "I wonder why worms like to dig in moist dirt."
- Plant a Seed: Seeds need three things to grow: light, food and water. In a small pot, or plastic cup, help your child plant a few grass, bean, or flower seeds.Talk about the growing process. First, the seeds are dormant (asleep). The moisture from the wet soil wakes them up — activating the growing process. Before the plant grows up to reach the sun, it grows down, placing roots into the soil. The soil helps secure the roots, and the roots soak up water. Check the soil regularly; if it starts to dry out, add a little water. Plants also need light in order to grow because plants turn light into food! So make sure to place that pot or cup near a window where it can get lots of sunshine. You might notice that your growing plant starts to bend toward sunlight. Your plant is alive, and it working hard to get what it needs to grow. For simple practice recording data, measure the plant each day with a ruler and write down how much it has grown!
- Trees: Trees are plants that come in many shapes and sizes and they serve as habitats for other living things such as insects, squirrels and birds – they are a vital part of many ecosystems. Find a tree to investigate up close. Begin to look for evidence of other living things (“I wonder if we can find signs that another living creature has been here recently?”). You might find a leaf that has been nibbled on, a nest, a bird feather, a hole, or a spider’s web. Visit the same tree a number of times over the course of a year to make note of the changes it goes through. Does this tree flower? Lose its leaves or needles? Drop seeds? Use a camera to document these changes.
- What’s In a Circle?: Use a hula hoop or a piece of string to form a small circle in a field, yard, or park. Challenge your child to look carefully at the ground inside that circle to see what evidence of living things she can find. Encourage her to look carefully at the various plants, and imagine what the world looks like from the perspective of a very small animal such as an ant. If you have a small magnifying glass, that will add another layer of observation. They can even count how many of each thing they find is in this one little spot and think about how many more are outside of the circle. These activities can help your child recognize the diversity of living things in even a small space.
- Keep It Clean: What role do we play in preserving our ecosystem? Why is this important? Identify one or two concrete ways your family can make a difference such as: turning off the water while brushing teeth, recycling, picking up trash together in a local park, planting a tree or a flower garden for butterflies, installing a bird feeder, or composting.
- Activity: Garden Math
- Activity: Sid the Science Kid: Growing Plants
- Video: Sid the Science Kid: "Growing Plants"
- Game: Nature Cat: Seed Soaring
- Game: Nature Cat: Park Builder
- Game: Arthur: Groovy Garden
- Game: Curious George: Flower Garden
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